“An unexamined life is not worth living” – Plato
Have you ever felt awed at the reality of your existence?
Have you ever taken time to reflect on the shortness of life?
It is so easy to get lost in daily concerns of food, clothing, shelter, needs, wants, education, career, family, relationships, health, politics, global matters and what others would say. With this, one forgets to reflect on the wonder of our “being” and on the reality of how short life is. Within this context, even 120 years of age still points to a short life on earth.
The feeling of wonder at our being begins with the questions, “How did I come to be?” Besides the biological explanations, “What power/force is exactly behind my coming into ‘being’?” “Did I create myself or bring myself into ‘being’?” Irrespective of one’s belief, lack of belief, or one’s religion, be it Candomblé, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Judaism, Mormonism, Paganism, Rastafari, Santeria, Shinto, Sikhism, Spiritualism, Taoism, Unitarianism, or Zoroastrianism, would any person make a claim that s/he created him/herself? There, lies the wonder!
In a normal human mind, a marvel at the wonder of one’s being is expected at some point in one’s thought about life. Any human being who has never marvelled at the wonder of our being, may indeed need some help, even more so if he/she thinks that they created themselves and all that is around them.
Truly acknowledging the “wonder” of one’s existence also goes with the feeling of “awe” (reverence and amazement!). This requires an ability to have quiet moments, in contemplation and self-awareness. Is it possible that there are individuals who never get to be in touch with themselves in this way? Just “being” and not all the time “doing”.
In a world filled with so much noise, worries and distractions, so many external realities make us lose and forget ourselves; no quiet moments, no time to think and reflect on life and on our “being”, no time to look at and just be with nature. No, we are always on the run, chasing after shadows that eventually are finite, with temporary pleasure and satisfaction, but lead nowhere.
The feeling of “wonder” and “awe” naturally comes with the feeling of gratitude and appreciation. When something is seen as wonderful and awesome, then thanksgiving follows. The psalmist says, “I thank you Lord for the wonder of my being, for the wonder of all your creation” (139:14). Irrespective of one’s belief, lack of belief or religion, this sense of gratitude to some power would flow out of the feeling of wonder and awe.
The popular musician, Celine Dion, jubilantly and enthusiastically gave a song to the world, singing “I’m Alive!” She sang: “When you call on me, when I hear you breathe, I get wings to fly, I feel that I’m alive! When you look at me, I can touch the sky, I know that I’m alive!” The Canadian singer is thrilled that she is alive; glad at the privilege to love and be loved in return. You are alive even though many are dying every day!
A wonder about one’s existence leads a person to question, “What is the essence of life – living?” Different people will respond differently depending on their understanding and perception of their own life. Why do I live? Why do I exist, and for what purpose? These are questions that a person needs to ask one’s self from time to time.
The response to these questions needs to come from within one’s self. Lots of factors influence one’s existence and choices in life, but then the response to these questions need to come from within one’s self. If this is not so, then perhaps, one may have lost touch with one’s inner and true self, and rather taken over by either materialism, quest for power, mundane concerns, ideologies, religious extremism, and/or other external causes.
Looking at society, we seem to have largely lost the “essence of life”. Anyway, who dares define the “essence of life” in such a diverse world where virtually everything is relative? Who can dare define the “essence of being” as though it were an ‘umbrella response’ for all human beings?
Can any definition be so all inclusive such that it includes terrorist, criminals, fraudsters and wicked individuals? Ask any person in these mentioned groups what their essence of life is. What do you imagine would be their response? Most likely it would be something outside of their true self.
One’s existence has meaning socially to the extent that the person contributes positively to society. Were you born or created to cause terror, loot, destroy, defraud, kill, abuse, harm, commit crimes and cause problems in your family and to society? Who indeed would respond “Yes” to this question? Yet, the reality is that some persons’ lives have said a big “yes” to this question.
What does one have to offer/contribute to society? As much as you seek out your survival, some vital questions to be answered are, “What are you bringing to society as an individual walking on the surface of this earth?” Where do you fit in society? Will your money always save you? What skill, talent, knowledge, profession are you good at that in essence gives your social life its meaning?
Paint a scenario, not far from reality, whereby a person has become so engrossed in greed, corruption and looting, such that, that is all s/he spends his/her days and years doing. Even seeming good works become camouflage to cover up or maybe make up for the greed, corrupt practices and looting of resources meant for the common good. You may not realise how many people live their lives in this way.
No one is a saint or is blameless, but how do you set out (purposely) to just live a life without morals and integrity, and it gives you your daily bread. Will such bread make you live forever?
Wonder leads to awe, awe leads to thanksgiving, which then leads to the conscious awareness that no one lives forever. The shortness of the human life is a reality. No one lives forever, be you Christian, pagan, atheist, Hindu, Muslim, Shona, Igbo, Kamba, Afemai, Kikuyu, Kanuri, Yoruba, Ibibio, Tiv, Giriama, Hausa, Bishop, President, Governor and so on. You would not be alive beyond 120 years of age.
One thing you can do freely as often as you can is, pause, relax your body and look up into the sky. Focus on the clouds and watch them in their beauty. This may help you re-focus your mind on the vastness of the universe, the uniqueness of your being and on the shortness of life. You may also find some reason to be grateful.
Again, the psalmist says, “Help us Lord to know the shortness of life that we may gain wisdom of heart” (90:12). Of course, everyone knows that life is short, but acknowledging that reality consciously through our way of life, is another story. When we are able to “number our days”, then we strive to live a better life so as to live a positive legacy behind us.
- Linda Ellah